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Below is a family biography included in the History of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania published in 1889 by A. Warner & Co.   These biographies are valuable for genealogy research in discovering missing ancestors or filling in the details of a family tree. Family biographies often include far more information than can be found in a census record or obituary.  Details will vary with each biography but will often include the date and place of birth, parent names including mothers' maiden name, name of wife including maiden name, her parents' names, name of children (including spouses if married), former places of residence, occupation details, military service, church and social organization affiliations, and more.  There are often ancestry details included that cannot be found in any other type of genealogical record.

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JOHN F. JENNINGS. The men who laid the foundations of manufacturing and commercial strength on which Pittsburgh was built are rapidly passing away, and those who remain should be made to feel that the new generation has an appreciation of the past, and is willing to give a full meed of praise when it is due. John Fleninken Jennings was one of this hard-working body of pioneers, and he well earned the comfort and ease in which his declining years were spent. His life was a useful and busy one. He was born in Waynesburg, Greene county, Pa., Oct. 28, 1807, his ancestors coming originally from New Jersey. His maternal grandfather, John Fleninken, while a native of Pennsylvania, was for many years a citizen of North Carolina, where he remained all through the revolutionary war, serving gallantly as a member of that band that has passed into history as Gen. Marion’s minutemen. He was a delegate to the Mechlenburg convention, which adopted the famous Mechlenburg declaration of independence in 1775, and was one of the signers of that immortal paper. He was a man of high standing and great influence in the south. When the war was over, his wife having in the meantime died, he returned to Pennsylvania, bringing with him two children, a son and daughter, the latter becoming afterward the wife of Benjamin Jennings and the mother of the subject of this sketch. On Mr. Fleninken’s return to the north, he was appointed one of the first associate judges of Greene county, and served with honor in that position.

Mr. Jennings’ paternal grandfather, Jacob Jennings, was a resident of Morris county, N. J., and came to Pennsylvania, settling on a farm on the west side of the Monongahela river, in Greene county. His son, Benjamin Jennings, learned the trade of a carpenter, and went to Waynesburg, the county seat of Greene county, which had previously been taken from Washington county. The town at that time did not contain a dozen houses. He assisted in building the first courthouse of that county, which was constructed of logs, and within it court was held until replaced with a new brick building. In this all the offices necessary for public business were included, and connected therewith was that very necessary appendage for a back woods town—a county jail. This county was named for Gen. Greene, the bosom friend and military companion of Gens. Washington and Lafayette, and thus Western Pennsylvania honors those three heroes of the revolutionary war by naming for them the three adjoining counties of Washington, Fayette and Greene. When Benjamin Jennings married Dorcas Fleninken he could find no house in Waynesburg in which to live save a small one of logs that stood on the farm from which the town was laid out. He purchased two lots on Main street and built two frame houses, a portion of the timber therein being cut from the main street of the town and the remainder from what is now called the Park, then known as the “Common.”

The subject of this sketch was born during the progress of the above, in the little log house that stood on what is now Greene street. This building was demolished only a few years since to make room for the progress of improvements in that enterprising town. Mr. Jennings’ opportunities for education were very limited. When about fifteen years of age he served for a time in a village store, but in a few months entered a printing-office to learn the trade of a printer. He earnestly applied himself to study, attending a grammar class at night, and soon became an expert in that difficult science. After completing his apprenticeship he was offered a position in the largest general store of the town, which he accepted, and remained there almost three years, receiving the rudiments of a business education which served him well in after life. By reason of close confinement his health began to fail, and he decided to leave the store and resume his trade as a printer. In 1830 he went to Ohio, and in St. Clairsville found an old office-mate who had learned his trade at the side of Mr. Jennings, this Was Col. W. Manypenny, who afterward became a distinguished citizen of Ohio, and held many important positions, both state and national; he is at present a resident of Washington, D.C. Col. Manypenny had just purchased a newspaper and desired Mr. Jennings to remain with him until the paper was established; this he did and remained for one year, when he went to Columbus, devoting part of his time to his trade and part to reporting the proceedings of the general assembly. There were no steam presses at that time and there were but two men in the office who could run a hand press. Mr. Jennings was one of the two, and being an expert in all branches was soon materially advanced in the matter of wages. He had made himself useful in so many ways and worked with such industry and intelligent understanding of what was required of him that when he decided to leave he was offered the foremanship if he would remain; but having other purposes in view he declined. He returned to St. Clairsville, where he remained until the following spring, and in 1833 removed to Pittsburgh, with forty-five dollars in his pocket, the sum total of his worldly wealth. Here he followed his trade, and in 1835 became foreman of one of the offices. In March, 1837 Mr. Jennings was offered the position of bookkeeper and general manager of the Eagle Cotton-works, one of the largest in that line in Allegheny, where all the factories of that section were located and doing an immense business. Today there is not one in operation. The machinery and business were sold a few years since and removed to Madison, Ind. Mr. Jennings remained with the Eagle Cotton-works six years, and Feb. 1, 1843, he and James W. Hailman formed the firm of Hailman, Jennings & Co., for the conduct of the grocery business, their store being on Wood street, between First and Second streets (now First and Second avenues).

April 10, 1845, occurred the disastrous fire which destroyed the greater portion of the business section of the city. Their store, together with a large stock of groceries, was burned, and they were left several thousand dollars in debt. Jan. 1, 1846, Mr. Jennings, in connection with William Coleman and his former partner, James W. Hailman, formed the partnership of Coleman, Hailman & Co., for the purpose of manufacturing springs and axles for carriages and wagons; also steel. (This was one of the very first attempts at steel-making in Pittsburgh.) And while they exercised the best judgment, their methods were to some extent crude, and their machinery ill adapted for the work required. Some matters connected with the conduct of the business were not congenial, and Mr. Jennings offered his interest for sale, which was purchased by the then banking firm of Krahmer & Rahm. After the business had been in operation about one year, Mr. Jennings became impressed so strongly with the prospects for the steel business that he at once set about to organize a new firm, in which after a time he was successful, and resulted in establishing the Sheffield Steel works, which today is the largest merchant steel-manufacturing establishment in Pittsburgh, and possibly in the United States. This firm, as originally organized, was composed of the following gentlemen: John F. Jennings, A. M. Wallingford, John F. Singer, Abraham S. Nicholson, Alexander Nimick and William K. Nimick, the firm name being Singer, Nicholson & Co. Before the works were completed and ready for operation, Hon. Felix R. Brunot was admitted to partnership in the firm, which was organized for the purpose of manufacture and sale of “steel, anvils, vises, springs, axles, and such other articles of a similar character as may be deemed advisable.” Mr. Nicholson remained in the business but a short time, and his interest was purchased by Mr. Samuel H. Hartman, the firm name being then changed to Singer, Hartman & Co. One of the principal articles of manufacture at the start was “German” plowsteel slabs, being rolled from cemented or blister-bar. A large demand having arisen for steel plows, and this mill having been constructed with an especial view to rolling such steel of a good quality, it met with a ready sale at remunerative prices, and for over two years they had a monopoly of the business. At the present time they hold the largest trade in plow-steel in this country. The method used in making steel was the old English one of cementation or conversion, since which time the whole method of manufacture of steel has changed, and comparatively little blister-bar is made, plow-steel now being of a different character and made by other methods.

Mr. Jennings was the originator of a system that is now universally adopted by the steel manufacturers, i. e., of cutting for plowmakers their shares, moldboards, etc., to shape, thus saving to the plowmakers the expense of cutting these shapes by hand as was the custom at that time. The Sheffield Steel works being provided with power shears could cut the shapes and make an additional profit for themselves and save a good percentage of expense to the consumer of the steel. Aug. 1, 1862, Mr. Jennings sold his interest in the business to his partners and retired from active business pursuits, but remained connected with banking and insurance companies, being elected vice-president of the Cash Insurance company on its organization, a position he retained until his death.

No record of his life, however much in outline, would be complete were no mention made of his patriotic course during the war of the rebellion. His heart and soul were in the Union cause, and he was not the man to stand by and see all the work done and the burdens borne by others. He turned with all his indomitable energy to aid in sending soldiers into the field, and his services in that direction were successful in a high degree. His eldest son, Benjamin F., then twenty-three years of age, and at that time employed in the office of the Sheffield works, was determined to enlist. With the assistance and encouragement of his father he recruited a number of men, and by uniting with others who were recruiting was formed a full company which was known during the service as Co. B, 155th P. V. I. Benjamin F. Jennings was elected and commissioned second lieutenant, and before his term of service expired won the captaincy of the company. When Lee invaded Maryland the governor of Pennsylvania called for 50,000 emergency-men; with other patriotic citizens, all through the state, Mr. Jennings went to work and promptly raised a company in Allegheny City. Many of the citizens had allowed their sons to enlist expecting Mr. Jennings to take command, and in order to make this misunderstanding good he decided to unofficially accompany the boys to the front. They arrived at Hagerstown immediately after the battle of Antietam, where they remained for two weeks until all danger of further invasion of the north was at an end. Mr. Jennings devoted his entire time in aid of the Union cause, and was prominent in keeping Western Pennsylvania fully alive to her duty in those trying hours. He was constantly in correspondence with the military authorities in Washington, and was frequently called to that city on business connected with military affairs. He was a prominent member of the city, state and national Union League, and one of its foremost workers. Mr. Jennings was an honored and consistent member of the Second Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh for more than forty years, and served for a number of years on the board of trustees. On several occasions when elections were held for elders of the church he was requested to serve in that position, but always declined.

He was married March 29, 1836, to Elizabeth B. Fitzgerald, youngest daughter of Michael Fitzgerald, at that time a prominent silversmith of Pittsburgh. There were born to this union three sons and two daughters, all of whom, with the exception of the youngest daughter, who died in infancy, are still living. The mother died Feb. 5, 1883.

Mr. Jennings died peacefully at his home in Allegheny City, March 8, 1888, having passed fourscore years of an honorable and useful life, leaving to his children the proud heritage of an unsullied life. The Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette of March 9, 1888, says:

In the death of John F. Jennings his family loses a kind and thoughtful father, the community one of the most enterprising and intelligent men who ever aided in its development, and the national government one of the most untiring patriots who ever stood by it in its hour of need.

In politics he was a republican, and was one of the founders of that party, it having its origin in Lafayette Hall in Pittsburgh, and although several times tendered public office, both state and national, and on two separate occasions being tendered the unanimous nomination for state senator, he steadily declined and never held an office.

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This family biography is one of 2,156 biographies included in the History of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania published in 1889 by A. Warner & Co.

View additional Allegheny County, Pennsylvania family biographies here: Allegheny County, Pennsylvania Biographies

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